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Full text of "John Brown. An address by Frederick Douglass, at the fourteenth anniversary of Storer College, Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, May 30, 1881"

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•i    t, 





Harper's  Ferrv,  West  Virginia,  May  30,  1881. 

DOVER,  N.  H.: 



hy  the  author  to  storer  college, 

the  proceeds  to  <x>  to  the  endowment  of  a 

John  Brown  Professorship. 

{Copyright  Secured.) 


In  substance,  this  address,  now  for  the  first  time  published,  was 
prepared  several  years  ago,  and  has  been  delivered  in  many  parts 
of  the  North.  Its  publication  now  in  pamphlet  form  is  due  to 
its  delivery  at  Harper's  Ferry,  W.  Va.,  on  Decoration  day,  1881, 
and  to  the  fact  that  the  proceeds  from  the  sale  of  it  are  to  be  used 
toward  the  endowment  of  a  John  Brown  Professorship  in  Storer 
College,  Harper's  Ferry — an  institution  mainly  devoted  to  the 
education  of  colored  youth. 

That  such  an  address  could  be  delivered  at  such  a  place,  at 
such  a  time,  is  strikingly  significant,  and  illustrates  the  rapid,  vast 
and  wonderful  changes  through  which  the  American  people 
have  been  passing  since  1859.  Twenty  years  ago  Frederick 
Douglass  and  others  were  mobbed  in  the  city  of  Boston,  and. 
driven  from  Tremont  Temple  for  uttering  sentiments  concerning. 
John  Brown  similar  to  those  contained  in  this  address.  Yet  now 
he  goes  freely  to  the  very  spot  where  John  Brown  committed  the 
offense  which  caused  all  Virginia  to  clamor  for  his  life,  and  with- 
out reserve  or  qualification,  commends  him  as  a  hero  and  martyr 
in  the  cause  of  liberty.  This  incident  is  rendered  all  the  more 
significant  by  the  fact  that  Hon.  Andrew  Hunter,  of  Charlestown,. 


— the  District  Attorney  who  prosecuted  John  Brown  and  secured 
his  execution, — sat  on  the  platform  directly  behind  Mr.  Doug- 
lass during  the  delivery  of  the  entire  address  and  at  the  close  of  it 
shook  hands  with  him,  and  congratulated  him,  and  invited  him  to 
Charlestown  (where  John  Brown  was  hanged),  adding  that  if 
Robert  E.  Lee  were  living,  he  would  give  him  his  hand  also. 


Not  to  fan  the  flame  of  sectional  animosity  now  happily  in  the 
process  of  rapid  and  I  hope  permanent  extinction ;  not  to  revive 
and  keep  alive  a  sense  of  shame  and  remorse  for  a  great  national 
crime,  which  has  brought  its  own  punishment,  in  loss  of  treasure, 
tears  and  blood ;  not  to  recount  the  long  list  of  wrongs,  inflicted 
on  my  race  during  more  than  two  hundred  years  of  merciless 
bondage  ;  nor  yet  to  draw,  from  the  labyrinths  of  far-off  centuries, 
incidents  and  achievements  wherewith  to  rouse  your  passions, 
and  enkindle  your  enthusiasm,  but  to  pay  a  just  debt  long  due,  to 
vindicate  in  some  degree  a  great  historical  character,  of  our  own 
time  and  country,  one  with  whom  I  was  myself  well  acquainted, 
and  whose  friendship  and  confidence  it  was  my  good  fortune  to 
share,  and  to  give  you  such  recollections,  impressions  and  facts, 
as  I  can,  of  a  grand,  brave  and  good  old  man,  and  especially  to 
promote  a  better  understanding  of  the  raid  upon  Harper's  Ferry 
of  which  he  was  the  chief,  is  the  object  of  this  address. 

In  all  the  thirty  years'  conflict  with  slavery,  if  we  except  the  late 
tremendous  war,  there  is  no  subject  which  in  its  interest  and  im- 
portance will  be  remembered  longer,  or  will  form  a  more  thrilling 
chapter  in  American  history  than  this  strange,  wild,  bloody  and 
mournful  drama.  The  story  of  it  is  still  fresh  in  the  minds  of 
many  who  now  hear  me,  but  for  the  sake  of  those  who  may  have 
forgotten  its  details,  and  in  order  to  have. our  subject  in  its  en- 
tire range  more  fully  and  clearly  before  us  at  the  outset,  I  will 
briefly  state  the  facts  in  that  extraordinary  transaction. 

On  the  night  of  the  16th  of  October,  1859,  there  appeared  near 
the  confluence  of  the  Potomac  and  Shenandoah  rivers,  a  party  of 

nineteen  men — fourteen  white  and  five  colored.    They  were  not 
only  armed  themselves,  but  had  brought  with  them  a  large  supply 
of  arms  for  such  persons  as  might  join  them    These  men  invaded 
Harper's   Ferry,  disarmed  the  watchman,  took  possession  of  the 
arsenal,  rifle-factory,    armory  and  other  government  property  at 
that   place,  arrested  and  made  prisoners  nearly  all  the  promi- 
nent citizens  of  the  neighborhood,  collected  about  fifty  slaves,  put 
bayonets  into  the  hands  of  such  as  were  able  and  willing  to  fight 
for  their  liberty,  killed  three  men,  proclaimed  general  emancipa- 
tion, held  the  ground  more  than  thirty  hours,  were  subsequently 
overpowered  and  nearly  all  killed,  wounded  or  captured,  by  a 
body  of  United  States  troops,  under  command  of  Colonel  Robert 
E.  Lee,  since  famous  as  the  rebel  Gen.  Lee.     Three  out  of  the 
nineteen  invaders  were  captured  whilst  fighting,  and  one  of  these 
was  Captain  John   Brown,  the  man  who  originated,  planned  and 
commanded  the  expedition.     At  the  time  of  his  capture   Capt. 
Brown  was  supposed  to  be  mortally  wounded,  as  he  had  several 
ugly  gashes  and  bayonet  wounds  on  his  head  and  body ;  and 
apprehending  that  he  might  speedily  die,  or  that  he  might   be 
rescued  by  his  friends,  and  thus  the  opportunity  of  making  him 
a  signal  example  of  slave-holding  vengeance  would  be  lost,  his 
captors  hurried  him  to  Charlestown  two  miles  further  within  the 
border  of  Virginia,  placed   him  in  prison  strongly  guarded  by 
troops,  and  before  his  wounds  were  healed  he  was  brought  into 
court,  subjected  to  a  nominal  trial,  convicted  of  high  treason  and 
inciting  slaves  to  insurrection,  and  was  executed.     His  corpse 
was  given  to  his  woe-stricken  widow,  and  she,  assisted  by  Anti- 
slavery  friends,  caused  it  to  be  borne  to  North  Elba,  Essex  Coun- 
ty, N.  Y.,    and  there   his  dust  now  reposes,  amid  the  silent,  sol- 
emn and  snowy  grandeur  of  the  Adirondacks. 

Such  is  the  story ;  with  no  line  softened  or  hardened  to  my  in- 
clining. It  certainly  is  not  a  story  to  please,  but  to  pain.  It  is 
not  a  story  to  increase  our  sense  of  social  safety  and  security, 
but  to  fill  the  imagination  with  wild  and  troubled  fancies  of  doubt 
and  danger.  It  was  a  sudden  and  startling  sin-prise  to  the  peo- 
ple of  Harper's  Ferry,  and  it  is  not  easy  to  conceive  of  a  situation 
more  abundant  in  all  the  elements  of  horror  and  consternation. 

They  had  retired  as  usual  to  rest,  with  no  suspicion  that  an  en- 
emy lurked  in  the  surrounding  darkness.  They  had  quietly  and 
trustingly  given  themselves  up  to  "  tired  Nature's  sweet  restorer, 
balmy  sleep,"  and  while  thus  all  unconscious  of  danger,  they 
were  roused  from  their  peaceful  slumbers  by  the  sharp  crack  of 
the  invader's  rifle,  and  felt  the  keen-edged  sword  of  war  at  their 
throats,  three  of  their  number  being  already  slain. 

Every  feeling  of  the  human  heart   was   naturally  outraged  at 
this   occurrence,  and   hence  at  the  moment  the  air  was  full  of 
denunciation  and  execration.     So  intense  was  tftis  feeling,  that 
few  ventured  to  whisper  a  word  of  apology.     But  happily  reason 
h^s  her  voice  as  well  as  feeling,  and  though    slower  in  deciding, 
her  judgments  are  broader,  deeper,  clearer  and  more  enduring. 
It  is  not  easy  to  reconcile  human  feeling  to  the  shedding  of 
blood  for  any  purpose,  unless  indeed  in  the  excitement  which 
the  shedding  of  blood  itself  occasions.     The  knife  is  to  feeling 
always  an  offence.     Even  when  in  the  hands  of  a  skillful  surgeon, 
it  refuses  consent  to  the  operation  long  after  reason  has  demon- 
strated its  necessity.     It  even   pleads   the  cause   of  the  known 
murderer  on  the  day  of  his  execution,  and  calls  society  half  crim- 
inal when,  in  cold  blood,  it  takes  life  as  a  protection  of  itself  from 
crime.     Let  no  word  be  said  against  this  holy  feeling  ;  more  than 
to  law  and  government  are  we  indebted  to  this  tender  sentiment 
of  regard  for  human  life  for  the  safety  with  which  we  walk   the 
streets  by  day  and  sleep  secure  in  our  beds  at  night.     It  is  na- 
ture's grand  police,  vigilant  and  faithful,  sentineled  in  the  soul, 
guarding  against  violence  to  peace  and  life.     But  whilst  so  much 
is  freely  accorded  to  feeling  in  the  economy  of  human  welfare, 
something  more  than  feeling  is  necessary  to  grapple  with  a  fact 
so  grim  and  significant   as  was  this  raid.      Viewed    apart   and 
alone,  as  a  transaction  separate  and  distinct  from  its  antecedents 
and  bearings,  it  takes  rank  with  the  most  cold-blooded  and  atro- 
cious wrongs  ever  perpetrated ;  but  just  here  is  the  trouble — this 
raid  on  Harper's   Ferry,  no  more  than  Sherman's  march  to  the 
sea  can  consent  to  be  thus  viewed  alone. 

There  is,  in  the  world's  government,  a  force  which  has  in  all 
ages  been  recognized,  sometimes  as  Nemesis,  sometimes  as  the 


judgment  of  God  and  sometimes  as  retributive  justice  ;  but  under 
whatever  name,  all  history  attests  the  wisdom  and  beneficence  oi 
its  chastisements,  and  men  become  reconciled  to  the  agents 
through  whom  it  operates,  and  have  extolled  them  as  heroes, 
benefactors  and  demigods. 

To  the  broad  vision  of  a  true  philosophy,  nothing  in  this  world 
stands  alone.  Everything  is  a  necessary  part  of  everything  else.  The 
margin  of  chance  is  narrowed  by  every  extension  of  reason  and 
knowledge,  and  nothing  comes  unbidden  to  the  feast  of  human 
experience.  The  universe,  of  which  we  are  a  part,  is  continually 
proving  itself  a  stupendous  whole,  a  system  of  law  and  order, 
eternal  and  perfect*.  Every  seed  bears  fruit  after  its  kind,  and  noth- 
ing is  reaped  which  was  not  sowed.  The  distance  between  seed 
time  and  harvest,  in  the  moral  world,  may  not  be  quite  so  well  de- 
fined or  as  clearly  intelligible  as  in  the  physical,  but  there  is  a  seed 
time,  and  there  is  a  harvest  time,  and  though  ages  may  intervene, 
and  neither  he  who  ploughed  nor  he  who  sowed  may  reap  in 
person,  yet  the  harvest  nevertheless  will  surely  come ;  and  as  in 
the  physical  world  there  are  century  plants,  so  it  may  be  in  the 
moral  world,  and  their  fruitage  is  as  certain  in  the  one  as  in  the 
other.  The  bloody  harvest  of  Harper's  Ferry  was  ripened  by 
the  heat  and  moisture  of  merciless  bondage  of  more  than  two 
hundred  years.  That  startling  cry  of  alarm  on  the  banks  of  the 
Potomac  was  but  the  answering  back  of  the  avenging  angel  to 
the  midnight  invasions  of  Christian  slave-traders  on  the  sleeping 
hamlets  of  Africa.  The  history  of  the  African  slave-trade  fur- 
nishes many  illustrations  far  more  cruel  and  bloody. 

Viewed  thus  broadly  our  subject  is  worthy  of  thoughtful  and 
dispassionate  consideration.  It  invites  the  study  of  the  poet, 
scholar,  philosopher  and  statesman.  What  the  masters  in  natural 
science  have  done  for  man  in  the  physical  world,  the  masters  of 
social  science  may  yet  do  for  him  in  the  moral  world.  Science 
now  tells  us  when  storms  are  in  the  sky,  and  when  and  where 
their  violence  will  be  most  felt.  Why  may  we  not  yet  know  with 
equal  certainty  when  storms  are  in  the  moral  sky,  and  how  to 
avoid  their  desolating  force?  But  I  can  invite  you  to  no  such 
profound  discussions.     I  am  not  the  man,  nor  is  this  the  occasion 

for  such  philosophical  enquiry.  Mine  is  the  word  of  grateful 
memory  to  an  old  friend  ;  to  tell  you  what  I  knew  of  him — what 
I  knew  of  his  inner  life — of  what  he  did  and  what  he  attempted, 
and  thus  if  possible  to  make  the  mainspring  of  his  actions  mani- 
fest and  thereby  give  you  a  clearer  view  of  his  character  and 
services.  y 

It  is  said  that  next  in  value  to  the  performance  of  great  deeds 
ourselves,  is  the  capacity  to  appreciate  such  when  performed  by 
others ;  to  more  than  this  I  do  not  presume.  Allow  me  one  oth- 
er personal  word  before  I  proceed.  In  the  minds  of  some  of  the 
American  people  I  was  myself  credited  with  an  important  agency 
in  the  John  Brown  raid.  Governor  Henry  A.  Wise  was  manifest- 
ly of  that  opinion.  He  was  at  the  pains  of  having  Mr.  Buchan- 
an send  his  Marshals  to  Rochester  to  invite  me  to  accompany 
them  to  Virginia.  Fortunately  I  left  town  several  hours  pre- 
vious to  their  arrival. 

What  ground  there  was  for  this  distinguished  consideration 
shall  duly  appear  in  the  natural  course  of  this  lecture.  I  wish 
however  to  say  just  here  that  there  was  no  foundation  whatever 
for  the  charge  that  I  in  any  wise  urged  or  instigated  John  Brown 
to  his  dangerous  work.  I  rejoice  that  it  is  my  good  fortune  to 
have  seen,  not  only  the  end  of  slavery,  but  to  see  the  day  when 
the  whole  truth  can  be  told  about  this  matter  without  prejudice 
to  either  the  living  or  the  dead.  I  shall  however  allow  myself 
little  prominence  in  these  disclosures.  Your  interests,  like  mine, 
are  in  the  all-commanding  figure  of  the  story,  and  to  him  I  con- 
secrate the  hour.  His  zeal  in  the  cause  of  my  race  was  far 
greater  than  mine  — it  was  as  the  burning  sun  to  my  taper  light — 
mine  was  bounded  by  time,  his  stretched  away  to  the  boundless 
shores  of  eternity.  I  could  live  for  the  slave,  but  he  could  die 
for  him.  The  crown  of  martyrdom  is  high,  far  beyond  the  reach 
of  ordinary  mortals,  and  yet  happily  no  special  greatness  or  supe- 
rior moral  excellence  is  necessary  to  discern  and  in  some  measure 
appreciate  a  truly  great  soul.  Cold,  calculating  and  unspiritual 
as  most  of  us  are,  we  are  not  wholly  insensible  to  real  greatness  ; 
and  when  we  are  brought  in  contact  with  a  man  of  commanding 
mold,  towering  high  and  alone  above  the  millions,  free  from  all 


conventional  fetters,  true  to  his  own  moral  convictions,  a  "  law 
unto  himself,"  ready  to  suffer  misconstruction,  ignoring  torture 
and  death  for  what  he  believes  to  be  right,  we  are  compelled  to 
do  him  homage. 

In  the  stately  shadow,  in  the  sublime  presence  of  such  a  soul  I 
find  myself  standing  to-night ;  and  how  to  do  it  reverence,  how 
to  do  it  justice,  how  to  honor  the  dead  with  due  regard  to  the 
living,  has  been  a  matter  of  most  anxious  solicitude. 

Much  has  been  said  of  John  Brown,  much  that  is  wise  and 
beautiful,  but  in  looking  over  what  may  be  called  the  John  Brown 
literature,  I  have  been  little  assisted  with  material,  and  even  less 
encouraged  with  any  hope  of  success  in  treating  the  subject. 
Scholarship,  genius  and  devotion  have  hastened  with  poetry  and 
eloquence,  story  and  song  to  this  simple  altar  of  human  virtue, 
and  have  retired  dissatisfied  and  distressed  with  the  thinness  and 
poverty  of  their  offerings,  as  I  shall  with  mine. 

The  difficulty  in  doing  justice  to  the  life  and  character  of  such 
a  man  is  not  altogether  due  to  the  quality  of  the  zeal,  or  of  the 
ability  brought  to  the  work,  nor  yet  to  any  imperfections  in  the 
qualities  of  the  man  himself;  the  state  of  the  moral  atmosphere 
about  us  has  much  to  do  with  it.  The  fault  is  not  in  our  eyes, 
nor  yet  in  the  object,  if  under  a  murky  sky  we  fail  to  discover  the 
object.  Wonderfully  tenacious  is  the  taint  of  a  great  wrong. 
The  evil,  as  well  as  "the  good  that  men  do,  lives  after  them." 
Slavery  is  indeed  gone  ;  but  its  long,  black  shadow  yet  falls  broad 
and  large  over  the  face  of  the  whole  country.  It  is  the  old  truth 
oft  repeated,  and  never  more  fitly  than  now,  "  a  prophet  is  with- 
out honor  in  his  own  country  and  among  his  own  people." 
Though  more  than  twenty  years  have  rolled  between  us  and  the 
Harper's  Ferry  raid,  though  since  then  the  armies  of  the  nation 
have  found  it  necessary  to  do  on  a  large  scale  what  John  Brown 
attempted  to  do  on  a  small  one,  and  the  great  captain  who 
fought  his  way  through  slavery  has  filled  with  honor  the  Presi- 
dential chair,  we  yet  stand  too  near  the  days  of  slavery,  and  the 
life  and  times  of  John  Brown,  to  see  clearly  the  true  martyr  and 
hero  that  he  was  and  rightly  to  estimate  the  value  of  the  man  and 
his  works.     Like  the  great  and  good  of  all  ages — the  men  born 


in  advance  of  their  times,  the  men  whose  bleeding  footprints  at- 
test the  immense  cost  of  reform,  and  show  us  the  long  and  dreary 
spaces,  between  the  luminous  points  in  the  progress  of  man- 
kind,— this  our  noblest  American  hero  must  wait  the  polishing 
wheels  of  after-coming  centuries  to  make  his  glorv  more  mani- 
fest, and  his  worth  more  generally  acknowledged.  Such  instances 
are  abundant  and  familiar.  If  we  go  back  four  and  twenty  cen- 
turies, to  the  stately  city  of  Athens,  and  search  among  her  arch- 
itectural splendor  and  her  miracles  of  art  for  the  Socrates  of  to- 
day, and  as  he  stands  in  history,  we  shall  find  ourselves  perplexed 
and  disappointed.  In  Jerusalem  Jesus  himself  was  only  the 
"  carpenter's  son" — a  young  man  wonderfully  destitute  of  worldly 
prudence — a  pestilent  fellow,  "  inexcusably  and  perpetually  inter- 
fering in  the  world's  business," — "upsetting  the  tables  of  the 
money-changers" — preaching  sedition,  opposing  the  good  old  re- 
ligion— "making  himself  greater  than  Abraham,"  and  at  the 
same  time  "  keeping  company"  with  very  low  people ;  but  be- 
hold the  change  !  He  was  a  great  miracle-worker,  in  his  day, 
but  time  has  worked  for  him  a  greater  miracle  than  all  his  mira- 
cles, for  now  his  name  stands  for  all  that  is  desirable  in  govern- 
ment, noble  in  life,  orderly  and  beautiful  in  society.  That  which 
time  has  done  for  other  great  men  of  his  class,  that  will  time  cer- 
tainly do  for  John  Brown.  The  brightest  gems  shine  at  first  with 
subdued  light,  and  the  strongest  characters  are  subject  to  the 
same  limitations.  Under  the  influence  of  adverse  education  and 
hereditary  bias,  few  things  are  more  difficult  than  to  render  im- 
partial justice.  Men  hold  up  their  hands  to  Heaven,  and  swear 
they  will  do  justice,  but  what  are  oaths  against  prejudice  and 
against  inclination  !  In  the  face  of  high-sounding  professions  and 
affirmations  we  know  well  how  hard  it  is  for  a  Turk  to  do  justice 
to  a  Christian,  or  for  a  Christian  to  do  justice  to  a  Jew.  How 
hard  for  an  Englishman  to  do  justice  to  an  Irishman,  for  an  Irish- 
man to  do  justice  to  an  Englishman,  harder  still  for  an  American 
tainted  by  slavery  to  do  justice  to  the  Negro  or  the  Negro's  friends. 
"  John  Brown,"  said  the  late  Wm.  H.  Seward,  "was  justly  hanged." 
"  John  Brown,"  said  the  late  John  A.  Andrew,  "  was  right."  It  is 
easy  to  perceive  the  sources  of  these  two  opposite  judgments  :  the 


one  was  the  verdict  of  slave-holding  and  panic-stricken  Virginia, 
the  other  was  the  verdict  of  the  best  heart  and  brain  of  free  old 
Massachusetts.  One  was  the  heated  judgment  of  the  passing  and 
passionate  hour,  and  the  other  was  the  calm,  clear,  unimpeacha- 
ble judgment  of  the  broad,  illimitable  future. 

There  is,  however,  one  aspect  of  the  present  subject  quite  wor- 
thy of  notice,  for  it  makes  the  hero  of  Harper's  Ferry  in  some 
degree  an  exception  to  the  general  rules  to  which  I  have  just  now 
adverted.  Despite  the  hold  which  slavery  had  at  that  time  on 
the  country,  despite  the  popular  prejudice  against  the  Negro,  de- 
spite the  shock  which  the  first  alarm  occasioned,  almost  from  the 
first  John  Brown  received  a  large  measure  of  sympathy  and  ap- 
preciation. New  England  recognized  in  him  the  spirit  which 
brought  the  pilgrims  to  Plymouth  rock  and  hailed  him  as  a  mar- 
tyr and  saint.  True  he  had  broken  the  law,  true  he  had  struck 
for  a  despised  people,  true  he  had  crept  upon  his  foe  stealthily, 
like  a  wolf  upon  the  fold,  and  had  dealt  his  blow  in  the  dark 
whilst  his  enemy  slept,  but  with  all  this  and  more  to  disturb  the 
moral  sense,  men  discerned  in  him  the  greatest  and  best  qualities 
known  to  human  nature,  and  pronounced  him  "  good."  Many 
consented  to  his  death,  and  then  went  home  and  taught  their  chil- 
dren to  sing  his  praise  as  one  whose  "  soul  is  marching  on" 
through  the  realms  of  endless  bliss.  One  element  in  explanation 
of  this  somewhat  anomalous  circumstance  will  probably  be 
found  in  the  troubled  times  which  immediately  succeeded,  for 
"  when  judgments  are  abroad  in  the  world,  men  learn  righteous- 

The  country  had  before  this  learned  the  value  of  Brown's  hero- 
ic character.  He  had  shown  boundless  courage  and  skill  in 
dealing  with  the  enemies  of  liberty  in  Kansas.  With  men  so  few, 
and  means  so  small,  and  odds  against  him  so  great,  no  captain 
ever  surpassed  him  in  achievements,  some  of  which  seem  almost 
beyond  belief.  With  only  eight  men  in  that  bitter  war,  he  met, 
fought  and  captured  Henry  Clay  Pate,  with  twenty-five  well  arm- 
ed and  mounted  men.  In  this  memorable  encounter,  he  select- 
ed his  ground  so  wisely,  handled  his  men  so  skillfully,  and  at- 
tacked the  enemy  so  vigorously,  that  they  could  neither  run  nor 



fight,  and  were  therefore  compelled  to  surrender  to  a  force  less 
than  one-third  their  own.  With  just  thirty  men  on  another  im- 
portant occasion  during  the  same  border  war,  he  met  and  van- 
quished four  hundred  Missourians  under  the  command  of  Gen. 
Read.  These  men  had  come  into  the  territory  under  an  oath 
never  to  return  to  their  homes  till  they  had  stamped  out  the  last 
vestige  of  free  State  spirit  in  Kansas ;  but  a  brush  with  old  Brown 
took  this  high  conceit  out  of  them,  and  they  were  glad  to  get  off 
upon  any  terms,  without  stopping  to  stipulate.  With  less  than 
one  hundred  men  to  defend  the  town  of  Lawrence,  he  offered  to 
lead  them  and  give  battle  to  fourteen  hundred  men  on  the  banks 
of  the  Waukerusia  river,  and  was  much  vexed  when  his  offer  was 
refused  by  Gen.  Jim  Lane  and  others  to  whom  the  defense  of  the 
town  was  confided.  Before  leaving  Kansas,  he  went  into  the 
border  of  Missouri,  and  liberated  a  dozen  slaves  in  a  single  night, 
and,  in  spite  of  slave  laws  and  marshals,  he  brought  these  people 
through  a  half  dozen  States,  and  landed  them  safely  in  Canada. 
With  eighteen  men  this  man  shook  the  whole  social  fabric  of 
Virginia.  With  eighteen  men  he  overpowered  a  town  of  nearly 
three  thousand  souls.  With  these  eighteen  men  he  held  that  large 
community  firmly  in  his  grasp  for  thirty  long  hours.  With  these 
eighteen  men  he  rallied  in  a  single  night  fifty  slaves  to  his  stan- 
dard, and  made  prisoners  of  an  equal  number  of  the  slave-hold- 
ing class.  With  these  eighteen  men  he  defied  the  power  and 
bravery  of  a  dozen  of  the  best  militia  companies  that  Virginia 
could  send  against  him.  Now,  when  slavery  struck,  as  it  certain- 
ly did  strike,  at  the  life  of  the  country,  it  was  not  the  fault  of 
John  Brown  that  our  rulers  did  not  at  first  know  how  to  deal 
with  it.  He  had  already  shown  us  the  weak  side  of  the  rebellion, 
had  shown  us  where  to  strike  and  how.  It  was  not  from  lack  of 
native  courage  that  Virginia  submitted  for  thirty  long  hours  and  at 
last  was  relieved  only  by  Federal  troops ;  but  because  the  attack  was 
made  on  the  side  of  her  conscience  and  thus  armed  her  against 
herself.  She  beheld  at  her  side  the  sullen  brow  of  a  black  Ire- 
land. When  John  Brown  proclaimed  emancipation  to  the  slaves 
of  Maryland  and  Virginia  he  added  to  his  war  power  the  force  of 
a  moral  earthquake.    Virginia  felt  all  her  strong-ribbed  mountains 


to  shake  under  the  heavy  tread  of  armed  insurgents.  Of  his 
army  of  nineteen  her  conscience  made  an  army  of  nineteen 

Another  feature  of  the  times,  worthy  of  notice,  was  the  effect  of 
this  blow  upon  the  country  at  large.  At  the  first  moment  we 
were  stunned  and  bewildered.  Slavery  had  so  benumbed  the 
moral  sense  of  the  nation,  that  it  never  suspected  the  possibility 
of  an  explosion  like  this,  and  it  was  difficult  for  Captain  Brown  to 
get  himself  taken  for  what  he  really  was.  Few  could  seem  to 
comprehend  that  freedom  to  the  slaves  was  his  only  object.  If 
you  will  go  back  with  me  to  that  time  you  will  find  that  the  most 
curious  and  contradictory  versions  of  the  affair  were  industrious- 
ly circulated,  and  those  which  were  the  least  rational  and  true 
seemed  to  command  the  readiest  belief.  In  the  view  of  some, 
it  assumed  tremendous  proportions.  To  such  it  was  nothing 
less  than  a  wide-sweeping  rebellion  to  overthrow  the  exist- 
ing government,  and  construct  another  upon  its  ruins,  with 
Brown  for  its  President  and  Commander-in-Chief;  the  proof 
of  this  was  found  in  the  old  man's  carpet-bag  in  the  shape  of  a 
constitution  for  a  new  Republic,  an  instrument  which  in  reality 
had  been  executed  to  govern  the  conduct  of  his  men  in  the 
mountains.  Smaller  and  meaner  natures  saw  in  it  nothing  high- 
er than  a  purpose  to  plunder.  To  them  John  Brown  and  his 
men  were  a  gang  of  desperate  robbers,  who  had  learned  by  some 
means  that  government  had  sent  a  large  sum  of  money  to  Har- 
per's Ferry  to  pay  off  the  workmen  in  its  employ  there,  and 
they  had  gone  thence  to  fill  their  pockets  from  this  money.  The 
fact  is,  that  outside  of  a  few  friends,  scattered  in  different  parts  of 
the  country,  and  the  slave-holders  of  Virginia,  few  persons  under- 
stood the  significance  of  the  hour.  That  a  man  might  do  some- 
thing very  audacious  and  desperate  for  money,  power  or  fame, 
was  to  the  general  apprehension  quite  possible ;  but,  in  face  of 
plainly-written  law,  in  face  of  constitutional  guarantees  protect- 
ing each  State  against  domestic  violence,  in  face  of  a  nation  of 
forty  million  of  people,  that  nineteen  men  could  invade  a  great 
State  to  liberate  a  despised  and  hated  race,  was  to  the  average 
intellect  and  conscience,  too  monstrous  for  belief.  In  this  respect 


the  vision  of  Virginia  was  clearer  than  that  of  the  nation.  Con- 
scious of  her  guilt  and  therefore  full  of  suspicion,  sleeping  on  pis- 
tols for  pillows,  startled  at  every  unusual  sound,  constantly  fearing 
and  expecting  a  repetition  of  the  Nat  Turner  insurrection,  she  at 
once  understood  the  meaning,  if  not  the  magnitude  of  the  affair. 
It  was  this  understanding  which  caused  her  to  raise  the  lusty  and 
imploring  cry  to  the  Federal  government  for  help,  and  it  was  not 
till  he  who  struck  the  blow  had  fully  explained  his  motives  and  ob- 
ject, that  the  incredulous  nation  in  any  wise  comprehended  the  true 
spirit  of  the  raid,  or  of  its  commander.  Fortunate  for  his  memory, 
fortunate  for  the  brave  men  associated  with  him,  fortunate  for  the 
truth  of  history,  John  Brown  survived  the  saber  gashes,  bayonet 
wounds  and  bullet  holes,  and  was  able,  though  covered  with  blood, 
to  tell  his  own  story  and  make  his  own  defense.  Had  he  with  all 
his  men,  as  might  have  been  the  case,  gone  down  in  the  shock  of 
battle,  the  world  would  have  had  no  true  basis  for  its  judgment, 
and  one  of  the  most  heroic  efforts  ever  witnessed  in  behalf  of  lib- 
erty  would  have  been  confounded  with  base  and  selfish  purposes. 
When,  like  savages,  the  Wises,  the  Vallandinghams,  the  Wash- 
ingtons,  the  Stuarts  and  others  stood  around  the  fallen  and  bleed- 
ing hero,  and  sought  by  torturing  questions  to  wring  from  his 
supposed  dying  lips  some  word  by  which  to  soil  the  sublime 
undertaking,  by  implicating  Gerrit  Smitii,  Joshua  R.  Giddings,  Dr. 
S.  G.  Howe,  G.  L.  Stearns,  Edwin  Morton,  Frank  Sanborn,  and 
other  prominent  Anti-slavery  men,  the  brave  old  man,  not  only 
avowed  his  object  to  be  the  emancipation  of  the  slaves,  but  se- 
renely and  proudly  announced  himself  as  solely  responsible 
for  all  that  had  happened.  Though  some  thought  of  his  own 
life  might  at  such  a  moment  have  seemed  natural  and  excusable, 
he  showed  none,  and  scornfully  rejected  the  idea  that  he  acted 
as  the  agent  or  instrument  of  any  man  or  set  of  men.  He  ad- 
mitted that  he  had  friends  and  sympathizers,  but  to  his  own  head 
he  invited  all  the  bolts  of  slave-holding  wrath  and  fury,  and  wel- 
comed them  to  do  their  worst.  His  manly  courage  and  self-for- 
getful nobleness  were  not  lost  upon  the  crowd  about  him,  nor 
upon  the  .country.  They  drew  applause  from  his  bitterest  ene- 
mies.    Said  Henry  A.  Wise,  "  He  is  the  gamest  man  I  ever  met." 


"He  was  kind  and  humane  to  his  prisoners,"  said   Col.  Lewis 

To  the  outward  eye  of  men,  John  Brown  was  a  criminal,  but 
to  their  inward  eye    he  was  a  just  man  and  true.      His  deeds 
might  be  disowned,  but  the  spirit  which  made  those  deeds  possi- 
ble was  worthy  highest  honor.     It  has  been  often  asked,  why  did 
not  Virginia  spare  the  life  of  this  man  ?  why  did  she  not  avail  her- 
self of  this  grand  opportunity  to  add  to  her  other  glory  that  of  a 
lofty  magnanimity  ?     Had  they  spared  the  good  old  man's  life- 
had  they  said  to  him,  "  You  see  we  have  you  in  our  power,  and 
could  easily  take  your  life,  but  we  have  no  desire  to  hurt  you  in 
any  way ;  you  "have  committed  a  terrible  crime  against  society ; 
you  have  invaded  us  at  midnight  and  attacked  a  sleeping  com- 
munity, but  we  recognize  you  as  a  fanatic,  and  in  some  sense  in- 
stigated by  others;  and  on  this  ground  and  others,  we  release 
you.     Go  about  your  business,  and  tell  those  who  sent  you  that 
we  can  afford  to  be  magnanimous  to  our  enemies."     I  say,,  had 
Virginia  held  some  such  language  as  this  to  John  Brown,  she  would 
have  inflicted  a  heavy  blow  on  the  whole  Northern  abolition 
movement,  one  which  only  the  omnipotence  of  truth  and  the 
force  of  truth  could  have  overcome.      I  have  no  doubt  Gov. 
Wise  would  have  done  so  gladly,  but,  alas,  he  was  the  executive 
of  a  State  which  thought  shje  could  not  afford  such  magnanimity. 
She  had  that  within  her  bosom  which  could  more  safely  tolerate 
the  presence  of  a  criminal  than  a  saint,  a  highway  robber  than  a 
moral  hero.     All  her  hills  and  valleys  were  studded  with  material 
for  a  disastrous  conflagration,  and  one  spark  oi  the  dauntless 
spirit  of  Brown  might  set  the  whole  State  in  flames.     A  sense  of 
this  appalling  liability  put  an  end  to  every  noble  consideration. 
His  death  was  a  foregone  conclusion,  and  his  trial  was  simply 
one  of  form. 

Honor  to  the  brave  young  Col.  Hoyt  who  hastened  from  Mas- 
sachusetts to  defend  his  friend's  life  at  the  peril  of  his  own  j  but 
there  would  have  been  no  hope  of  success  had  he  been  allowed 
to  plead  the  case.  He  might  have  surpassed  Choate  or  Webster 
in  power — a  thousand  physicians  might  have  sworn  that  Capt. 
Brown  was  insane,  it  would  have  been  all  to  no  purpose  ;  nei- 


ther  eloquence  nor  testimony  could  have  prevailed.  Slavery  was 
the  idol  of  Virginia,  and  pardon  and  life  to  Brown  meant  con- 
demnation and  death  to  slavery.  He  had  practically  illustrated 
a  truth  stranger  than  fiction, — a  truth  higher  than  Virginia  had 
ever  known, — a  truth  more  noble  and  beautiful  than  Jefferson  ever 
wrote.  He  had  evinced  a  conception  of  the  sacredness  and  val- 
ue of  liberty  which  transcended  in  sublimity  that  of  her  own  Pat- 
rick Henry  and  made  even  his  fire-flashing  sentiment  of  "  Liberty 
or  Death  "  seem  dark  and  tame  and  selfish.  Henry  loved  liberty 
for  himself,  but  this  man  loved  liberty  for  all  men,  and  for  those 
most  despised  and  scorned,  as  well  as  for  those  most  esteemed 
and  honored.  Just  here  was  the  true  glory  of  John  Brown's  mis- 
sion. It  was  not  for  his  own  freedom  that  he  was  thus  ready  to 
lay  down  his  life,  for  with -Paul  he  could  say,  "  I  was  born  free." 
No  chain  had  bound  his  ankle,  no  yoke  had  galled  his  neck. 
History  has  no  better  illustration  of  pure,  disinterested  benevo- 
lence. It  was  not  Caucasian  for  Caucasian — white  man  for 
white  man ;  not  rich  man  for  rich  man,  but  Caucasian  for  Ethio- 
pian— white  man  for  black  man — rich  man  for  poor  man — the 
man  admitted  and  respected,  for  the  man  despised  and  rejected. 
"I  want  you  to  understand,  gentlemen,"  he  said  to  his  persecu- 
tors, "  that  I  respect  the  rights  of  the  poorest  and  weakest  of  the 
colored  people,  oppressed  by  the  slave  system,  as  I  do  those  of 
the  most  wealthy  and  powerful."  In  this  we  have  the  key  to  the 
whole  life  and  career  of  the  man.  Than  in  this  sentiment  hu- 
manity has  nothing  more  touching,  reason  nothing  more  noble, 
imagination  nothing  more  sublime ;  and  if  we  could  reduce  all 
the  religions  of  the  world  to  one  essence  we  could  find  in  it 
nothing  more  divine.  It  is  much  to  be  regretted  that  some  great 
artist,  in  sympathy  with  the  spirit  of  the  occasion,  had  not  been 
present  when  these  and  similar  words  were  spoken.  The  situation 
was  thrilling.  An  old  man  in  the  center  of  an  excited  and  angry 
crowd,  far  away  from  home,  in  an  enemy's  country — with  no  friend 
near — overpowered,  defeated,  wounded,  bleeding — covered  with 
reproaches — his  brave  companions  nearly  all  dead — his  two  faith- 
ful sons  stark  and  cold  by  his  side —  reading  his  death-warrant  in 
his  fast-oozing  blood  and  increasing  weakness  as  in  the  faces  of 
all  around  him — yet  calm,  collected,  brave,  with  a  heart  for  any 


fate — using  his  supposed  dying  moments  to  explain  his  course 
and  vindicate  his  cause  :  such  a  subject  would  have  been  at 
once  an  inspiration  and  a  power  for  one  of  the  grandest  histori- 
cal pictures  ever  painted.     .     .     . 

With  John  Brown,  as  with  every  other  man  fit  to  die  for  a 
cause,  the  hour  of  his  physical  weakness  was  the  hour  of  his 
moral  strength — the  hour  of  his  defeat  was  the  hour  of  his  tri- 
umph— tne  moment  of  his  capture  was  the  crowning  victory  of 
his  life.  With  the  Alleghany  mountains  for  his  pulpit,  the 
country  for  his  church  and  the  whole  civilized  world  for  his 
audience,  he  was  a  thousand  times  more  effective  as  a  preacher 
than  as  a  warrior,  and  the  consciousness  of  this  fact  was  the 
secret  of  his  amazing  complacency.  Mighty  with  the  sword  of 
steel,  he  was  mightier  with  the  sword  of  the  truth,  and  with  this 
sword  he  literally  swept  the  horizon.  He  was  more  than  a  match 
for  all  the  Wises,  Masons,  Vallandinghams  and  Washingtons,  who 
could  rise  against  him.  They  could  kill  him,  but  they  could  not 
answer  him. 

In  studying  the  character  and  works  of  a  great  man,  it  is  always 
desirable  to  learn  in  what  he  is  distinguished  from  others,  and 
what  have  been  the  causes  of  this  difference.  Such  men  as  he 
whom  we, are  now  considering,  come  on  to  the  theater  of  life  only 
at  long  intervals.  •  It  is  not  always  easy  to  explain  the  exact  and 
logical  causes  that  produce  them,  or  the  subtle  influences  which 
sustain  them,  at  the  immense  hights  where  we  sometimes  find 
them ;  but  we  know  that  the  hour  and  the  man  are  seldom  far 
apart,  and  that  here,  as  elsewhere,  the  demand  may  in  some  mys- 
terious way,  regulate  the  supply.  A  great  iniquity,  hoary  with  age, 
proud  and  defiant,  tainting  the  whole  moral  atmosphere  of  the 
country-,  subjecting  both  church  and  state  to  its  control,  demand- 
ed the  startling  shock  which  John  Brown  seemed  especially  in- 
spired to  give  it. 

Apart  from  this  mission  there  was  nothing  very  remarkable 
about  him.  He  was  a  wool-dealer,  and  a  good  judge  of  wool,  as 
a  wool-dealer  ought  to  be.  In  all  visible  respects  he  was  a  man 
like  unto  other  men.  No  outward  sign  of  Kansas  or  Harper's 
Ferry  was  about  him.  As  I  knew  him,  he  was  an  even-tempered 
man,  neither  morose,  malicious  nor  misanthropic,  but  kind,  amia- 


ble,  courteous,  and  gentle  in  his  intercourse  with  men.  His  words 
were  few,  well  chosen  and  forcible.  He  was  a  good  buisness 
man,  and  a  good  neighbor.  A  good  friend,  a  good  citizen,  a  good 
husband  and  father :  a  man  apparently  in  every  way  calculated  to 
make  a  smooth  and  pleasant  path  for  himself  through  the  world. 
He  loved  society,  he  loved  little  children,  he  liked  music,  and  was 
fond  of  animals.  To  no  one  was  the  world  more  beautiful  or  life 
more  sweet.  How  then  as  I  have  said  shall  we  explain  his  appar- 
ent indifference  to  life  ?  I  can  find  but  one  answer,  and  that  is,. 
his  intense  hatred  to  oppression.  I  have  talked  with  many  men,. 
but  I  remember  none,  who  seemed  so  deeply  excited  upon  the 
subject  of  slavery  as  he.  He  would  walk  the  room  in  agitation. 
at  mention  of  the  word.  He  saw  the  evil  through  no  mist  or 
haze,  but  in  a  light  of  infinite  brightness,  which  left  no  line  of  its 
ten  thousand  horrors  out  of  sight.  Law,  religion,  learning,  were 
interposed  in  its  behalf  in  vain.  His  law  in  regard  to  it  was  that 
which  Lord  Brougham  described,  as  "  the  law  above  all  the  enact- 
ments of  human  codes,  the  same  in  all  time,  the  same  throughout 
the  world — the  law  unchangeable  and  eternal — the  law  written  by 
the  finger  of  God  on  the  human  heart — that  law  by  which  proper- 
ty in  man  is,  and  ever  must  remain,  a  wild  and  guilty  phantasy." 

Against  truth  and   right,  legislative  enactments  were   to  his. 

mind  mere  cobwebs — the  pompous  emptiness  of  human  pride 

the  pitiful  outbreathings  of  human  nothingness.  He  used  to  say 
"  whenever  there  is  a  right  thing  to  be  done,  there  is  a  '  thus- 
saith  the  Lord  '  that  it  shall  be  done." 

It  must  be  admitted  that  Brown  assumed  tremendous  responsi- 
bility in  making  war  upon  the  peaceful  people  of  Harper's  Ferry, 
but  it  must  be  remembered  also  that  in  his  eye  a  slave-holding. 
community  could  not  be  peaceable,  but  was,  in  the  nature  of  the 
case,  in  one  incessant  state  of  war.  To  him  such  a  community- 
was  not  more  sacred  than  a  band  of  robbers  :  it  was  the  right  of 
any  one  to  assault  it  by  day  or  night  He  saw  no  hope  that  slav- 
ery would  ever  be  abolished  by  moral  or  political  means :  "he 
knew,"  he  said,  "  the  proud  and  hard  hearts  of  the  slave-holders,. 
and  that  they  never  would  consent  to  give  up  their  slaves,  till  they 
felt  a  big  stick  about  their  heads." 

It  was  five  years  before  this  event  at  Harper's  Ferry,  while  the 


conflict  between  freedom  and  slavery  was  waxing  hotter  and  hotter 
with  every  hour,  that  the  blundering  statesmanship  of  the  Nation- 
al Government  repealed  the  Missouri  compromise,  and  thus 
launched  the  territory  of  Kansas  as  a  prize  to  be  battled  for  be- 
tween the  North  and  the  South.  The  remarkable  part  taken  in  this 
contest  by  Brown  has  been  already  referred  to,  and  it  doubtless 
helped  to  prepare  him  for  the  final  tragedy,  and  though  it  did  not 
by  any  means  originate  the  plan,  it  confirmed  him  in  it  and^has- 
tened  its  execution. 

During  his  four  years'  service  in  Kansas  it  was  my  good  fortune 
to  see  him  often.  On  his  trips  to  and  from  the  territory  he  some- 
times stopped  several  days  at  my  house,  and  at  one  time  several 
weeks.  It  was  on  this  last  occasion  that  liberty  had  been  victo- 
rious in  Kansas,  and  he  felt  that  he  must  hereafter  devote  himself 
to  what  he  considered  his  larger  work.  It  was  the  theme  of  all 
his  conversation,  filling  his  nights  with  dreams  and  his  days  with 
visions.  An  incident  of  his  boyhood  may  explain,  in  some  meas- 
ure, the  intense  abhorrence  he  felt  to  slavery.  He  had  for  some 
reason  been  sent  into  the  State  of  Kentucky,  where  he  made  the 
acquaintance  of  a  slave  boy,  about  his  own  age,  of  whom  he  be- 
came very  fond.  For  6ome  petty  offense  this  boy  was  one  day 
subjected  to  a  brutal  beating.  The  blows  were  dealt  with  an  iron 
shovel  and  fell  fast  and  furiously  upon  his  slender  body.  Born  in  a 
free  State  and  unaccustomed  to  such  scenes  of  cruelty,  young 
Brown's  pure  and  sensitive  soul  revolted  at  the  shocking  specta- 
cle and  at  that  early  age  he  swore  eternal  hatred  to  slavery.  Aft- 
er years  never  obliterated  the  impression,  and  he  found  in 
this  early  experience  an  argument  against  contempt  for  small 
things.  It  is  true  that  the  boy  is  the  father  of  the  man.  From 
the  acorn  comes  the  oak.  The  impression  of  a  horse's  foot  in  the 
sand  suggested  the  art  of  printing.  The  fall  of  an  apple  intimat- 
ed the  law  of  gravitation.  A  word  dropped  in  the  woods  of  Vin- 
cennes,  by  royal  hunters,  gave  Europe  and  the  world  a  "  William 
the  Silent,"  and  a  thirty  years'  war.  The  beating  of  a  Hebrew 
bondsman,  by  an  Egyptian,  created  a  Moses,  and  the  infliction  of 
a  similar  outrage  on  a  helpless  slave  boy  in  our  own  land  may 
have  caused,  forty  years  afterwards,  a  John  Brown  and  a  Harper's 
Ferry  Raid. 


Most  of  us  can  remember  some  event  or  incident  which  has  at 
some  time  come  to  us,  and  made  itself  a  permanent  part  of  our 
lives.  Such  an  incident  came  to  me  in  the  year  1847.  I  had 
then  the  honor  of  spending  a  day  and  a  night  under  the  roof  of  a 
man,  whose  character  and  conversation  made  a  very  deep  im- 
pression on  my  mind  and  heart ;  and  as  the  circumstance  does 
not  lie  entirely  out  of  the  range  of  our  present  observations,  you 
will  pardon  for  a  moment  a  seeming  digression.  The  name  of 
the  person  alluded  to  had  been  several  times  mentioned  to  me, 
in  a  tone  that  made  me  curious  to  see  him  and  to  make  his  ac* 
quaintance.  He  was  a  merchant,  and  our  first  meeting  was  at 
his  store — a  substantial  brick  building,  giving  evidence  of  a  flour- 
ishing business.  After  a  few  minutes'  detention  here,  long  enough 
for  me  to  observe  the  neatness  and  order  of  the  place,  I  was  con- 
ducted by  him  to  his  residence  where  I  was  kindly  received  by 
his  family  as  an  expected  guest.  I  was  a  little  disappointed  at 
the  appearance  of  this  man's  house,  for  after  seeing  his  fine  store, 
I  was  prepared  to  see  a  fine  residence ;  but  this  logic  was  entire- 
ly contradicted  by  the  facts.  The  house  was  a  small,  wooden 
one,  on  a  back  street  in  a  neighborhood  of  laboring  men  and  me- 
chanics, respectable  enough,  but  not  just  the  spot  where  one 
would  expect  to  find  the  home  of  a  successful  merchant.  Plain 
as  was  the  outside,  the  inside  was  plainer.  Its  furniture  might 
have  pleased  a  Spartan.  It  would  take  longer  to  tell  what  was 
not  in  it,  than  what  was ;  no  sofas,  no  cushions,  no  curtains,  no 
carpets,  no  easy  rocking  chairs  inviting  to  enervation  or  rest  or 
repose.  My  first  meal  passed  under  the  misnomer  of  tea.  It 
was  none  of  your  tea  and  toast  sort,  but  potatoes  and  cabbage, 
and  beef  soup ;  such  a  meal  as  a  man  might  relish  after  following 
the  plough  all  day,  or  after  performing  a  forced  mar^h  of  a  doz- 
en miles  over  rough  ground  in  frosty  weather.  Innocent  of 
paint,  veneering,  varnish  or  tablecloth,  the  table  announced  itself 
unmistakably  and  honestly  pine  and  of  the  plainest  workmanship. 
No  hired  help  passed  from  kitchen  to  dining  room,  staring  in 
amazement  at  the  colored  man  at  the  white  man's  table.  The 
mother,  daughters  and  sons  did  the  serving,  and  did  it  well.  I 
heard  no  apology  for  doing  their  own  work  ;  they  went  through 
it  as  if  used  to  it,  untouched  by  any  thought  of  degradation  or 


impropriety.  Supper  over,  the  boys  helped  to  clear  the  table 
and  wash  the  dishes.  This  style  of  housekeeping  struck  me  as  a 
little  odd.  I  mention  it  because  household  management  is  wor- 
thy of  thought.  A  house  is  more  than  brick  and  mortar,  wood  or 
paint ;  this  to  me  at  least  was.  In  its  plainness  it  was  a  truthful 
reflection  of  its  inmates :  no  disguises,  no  illusions,  no  make-be- 
lieves here,  but  stern  truth  and  solid  purpose  breathed  in  all  its 
arrangements.  I  was  not  long  in  company  with  the  master  of  this 
house  before  I  discovered  that  he  was  indeed  the  master  of  it,  and 
likely  to  become  mine  too,  if  I  staid  long  with  him.  He  fulfilled 
St.  Paul's  idea  of  the  head  of  the  family — his  wife  believed  in  him, 
and  his  children  observed  him  with  reverence.  Whenever  he 
spoke,  his  words  commanded  earnest  attention.  His  arguments 
which  I  ventured  at  some  points  to  oppose,  seemed  to  convince 
all,  his  appeals  touched  all,  and  his  will  impressed  all.  Certainly 
I  never  felt  myself  in  the  presence  of  a  stronger  religious  influ- 
ence than  while  in  this  house.  "  God  and  duty,  God  and  duty," 
run  like  a  thread  of  gold  through  all  his  utterances,  and  his  fam- 
ily supplied  a  ready  "Amen."  In  person  he  was  lean  and  sin- 
ewy, of  the  best  New  England  mould,  built  for  times  of  trouble, 
fitted  to  grapple  with  the  flintiest  hardships.  Clad  in  plain 
American  woolen,  shod  in  boots  of  cowhide  leather,  and  wearing 
a  cravat  of  the  same  substantial  material,  under  six  feet  high, 
less  than  one  hundred  and  fifty  lbs.  in  weight,  aged  about  fifty, 
he  presented  a  figure  straight  and  symmetrical  as  a  mountain 
pine.  His  bearing  was  singularly  impressive.  His  head  was  not 
large,  but  compact  and  high.  His  hair  was  coarse,  strong,  slight- 
ly gray  and  closely  trimmed  and  grew  close  to  his  forehead.  His 
face  was  smoothly  shaved  and  revealed  a  strong  square  mouth, 
supported  \fy  a  broad  and  prominent  chin.  His  eyes  were  clear 
and  grey,  and  in  conversation  they  alternated  with  tears  and  fire. 
When  on  the  street,  he  moved  with  a  long  springing,  race-horse 
step,  absorbed  by  his  own  reflections,  neither  seeking  nor  shun- 
ning observation.  Such  was  the  man  whose  name  I  heard  ut- 
tered in  whispers — such  was  the  house  in  which  he  lived — such 
were  his  family  and  household  management — and  such  was  Cap- 
tain John  Brown. 

He  said  to  me  at  this  meeting,  that  he  had  invited  me  to  his 


house  for  the  especial  purpose  of  laying  before  me  his  plan  for 
the  speedy  emancipation  of  my  race.     He  seemed  to  apprehend 
opposition  on  my  part  as  he  opened  the  subject  and  touched  my 
vanity  by  saying,  that  he  had  observed  my  course  at  home  and 
abroad,  and  wanted  my  co-operation.     He  said  he  had  been  for 
the  last  thirty  years  looking  for  colored  men  to  whom  he  could 
safely  reveal  his  secret,  and  had  almost  despaired,  at  times,  of 
finding  such,  but  that  now  he  was  encouraged  for  he  saw  heads 
rising  up  in  all  directions,  to  whom  he  thought  he  could  with  safe- 
ty impart  his  plan.     As  this  plan  then  lay  in  his  mind  it  was  very 
simple,  and  had  much  to  commend  it.     It  did  not,  as  was  sup- 
posed by  many,  contemplate  a  general  rising  among  the  slaves, 
and  a  general  slaughter  of  the  slave  masters    (an  insurrection  he 
thought  would  only  defeat  the  object),  but  it  did  contemplate  the 
creating  of  an  armed  force  which  should  act  in  the  very  heart  of 
the  South.     He  was  not  averse  to  the  shedding  of  blood,  and 
thought  the  practice  of  carrying  arms  would  be  a  good  one  for 
the  colored  people  to  adopt,  as  it  would  give  them  a  sense  of 
manhood.     No  people  he  said  could  have  self-respect  or  be  re- 
spected who  would  not  fight  for  their  freedom.     He  called  my  at- 
tention to  a  large  map  of  the  U.  States,  and  pointed  out  to  me 
the  far-reaching  Alleghanies,  stretching  away  from  the  borders  of 
New  York  into  the  Southern  States.      "These  mountains,"  he 
said,  "  are  the  basis  of  my  plan.     God  has  given  the  strength  of 
these  hills  to  freedom ;  they  were  placed  here  to  aid  the  emanci- 
pation of  your  race ;    they  are   full  of  natural  forts,  where  one 
man  for  defense  would  be  equal  to  a  hundred  for  attack ;  they  are 
also  full  of  good  hiding  places    "here  a  large  number  of  men 
could  be  concealed  and  baffle  and  elude  pursuit  for  a  long  time. 
I  know  these  mountains  well  and  could  take  a  body  of  men  into 
them  and  keep  them  there  in  spite  of  all  the  efforts  of  Virginia  to 
dislodge  me,  and  drive  me  out.      I  would  take  at  first  about 
twenty-five  picked  men  and  begin  on  a  small  scale,  supply  them 
arms  and  ammunition,  post  them  in  squads  of  fives  on  a  line  of 
twenty-five  miles,  these  squads  to  busy  themselves  for  a  time  in 
gathering  recruits  from  the  surrounding  farms,  seeking  and  select- 
ing the  most  restless  and  daring."     He  saw  that  in  this  part  of 
the  work  the  utmost  care  must  be  used  to  guard  against  treach- 


ery  and  disclosure ;  only  the  most  conscientious  and  skillful 
should  be  sent  on  this  perilous  duty.  With  care  and  enterprise 
he  thought  he  could  soon  gather  a  force  of  one  hundred  hardy 
men,  men  who  would  be  content  to  lead  the  free  and  adventur- 
ous life  to  which  he  proposed  to  train  them.  When  once  prop- 
erly drilled  and  each  had  found  the  place  for  which  he  was  best 
suited,  they  would  begin  work  in  earnest ;  they  would  run  off  the 
slaves  in  large  numbers,  retain  the  strong  and  brave  ones  in  the 
mountains,  and  send  the  weak  and  timid  ones  to  the  North  by 
the  underground  Rail-road ;  his  operations  would  be  enlarged 
with  increasing  numbers  and  would  not  be  confined  to  one  local- 
ity. Slave-holders  should  in  some  cases  be  approached  at  mid- 
night and  told  to  give  up  their  slaves  and  to  let  them  have  their 
best  horses  to  rid%  away  upon.  Slavery  was  a  state  of  war,  he 
said,  to  which  the  slaves  were  unwilling  parties  and  consequently 
they  had  a  right  to  anything  necessary  to  their  peace  and  free- 
dom. He  would  shed  no  blood  and  would  avoid  a  fight  except 
in  self-defense,  when  he  would  of  course  do  his  best.  He  be- 
lieved this  movement  would  weaken  slavery  in  two  ways — first  by 
making  slave  property  insecure,  it  would  become  undesirable ; 
and  secondly  it  would  keep  the  anti-slavery  agitation  alive  and 
public  attention  fixed  upon  it,  and  thus  lead  to  the  adoption  of 
measures  to  abolish  the  evil  altogether.  He  held  that  there  was 
need  of  something  startling  to  prevent  the  agitation  of  the  ques- 
tion from  dying  out ;  that  slavery  had  come  near  being  abolished 
in  Virginia  by  the  Nat.  Turner  insurrection,  and  he  thought  his 
method  would  speedily  put  an  end  to  it,  both  in  Maryland  and 
Virginia.  The  trouble  was  to  get  fhe  right  men  to  start  with  and 
money  enough  to  equip  them.  He  had  adopted  the  simple  and 
economical  mode  of  living  to  which  I  have  referred  with  a  view 
to  save  money  for  this  purpose.  This  was  said  in  no  boastful 
tone,  for  he  felt  that  he  had  delayed  already  too  long  and  had  no 
room  to  boast  either  his  zeal  or  his  self-denial. 

From  8  o'clock  in  the  evening  till  3  in  the  morning,  Capt. 
Brown  and  I  sat  face  to  face,  he  arguing  in  favor  of  his  plan,  and 
I  finding  all  the  objections  I  could  against  it.  Now  mark  !  this 
meeting  of  ours  was  full  twelve  years  before  the  strike  at  Har- 
per's Ferry.     He  had  been  watching  and  waiting  all  that  time  for 


suitable  heads  to  rise  or  "  pop  up  "  as  he  said  among  the  sable 
millions  in  whom  he  could  confide  ;  hence  forty  years  had  passed 
between  his  thought  and  his  act.  Forty  years,  though  not  a  long 
time  in  the  life  of  a  nation,  is  a  long  time  in  the  life  of  a  man ; 
and  here  forty  long  years,  this  man  was  struggling  with  this  one 
idea ;  like  Moses  he  was  forty  years  in  the  wilderness.  Youth, 
manhood,  middle  age  had  come  and  gone ;  two  marriages  had 
been  consummated,  twenty  children  had  called  him  father ;  and 
through  all  the  storms  and  vicissitudes  of  busy  life,  this  one 
thought,  like  the  angel  in  the  burning  bush,  had  confronted  him 
with  its  blazing  light,  bidding  him  on  to  his  work.  Like  Moses 
he  had  made  excuses,  and  as  with  Moses  his  excuses  were  over- 
ruled. Nothing  should  postpone  further  what  was  to  him  a  di- 
vine command,  the  performance  of  which  seemed  to  him  his  on- 
ly apology  for  existence.  He  often  said  to  me,  though  life  was 
sweet  to  him,  he  would  willingly  lay  it  down  for  the  freedom  of 
my  people ;  and  on  one  occasion  he  added,  that  he  had  already 
lived  about  as  long  as  most  men,  since  he  had  slept  less,  and  if 
he  should  now  lay  down  his  life  the  loss  would  not  be  great,  for 
in  fact  he  knew  no  better  use  for  it.  During  his  last  visit  to  us 
in  Rochester  there  appeared  in  the  newspapers  a  touching  story 
connected  with  the  horrors  of  the  Sepoy  War  in  British  India.  A 
Scotch  missionary  and  his  family  were  in  the  hands  of  the  enemy, 
and  were  to  be  massacred  the  next  morning.  During  the  night, 
when  they  had  given  up  every  hope  of  rescue,  suddenly  the  wife 
insisted  that  relief  would  come.  Placing  her  ear  close  to  the 
ground  she  declared  she  heard  the  Slogan — the  Scotch  war  song. 
For  long  hours  in  the  night  no  member  of  the  family  could  hear 
the  advancing  music  but  herself.  "  Dinna  ye  hear  it  ?  Dinna  ye 
hear  it?"  she  would  say,  but  they  could  not  hear  it.  As  the 
morning  slowly  dawned  a  Scotch  regiment  was  found  encamped 
indeed  about  them,  and  they  were  saved  from  the  threatened 
slaughter.  This  circumstance,  coming  at  such  a  time,  gave  Capt. 
Brown  a  new  word  of  cheer.  He  would  come  to  the  table  in  the 
morning  his  countenance  fairly  illuminated,  saying  that  he  had 
heard  the  Slogan,  and  he  would  add,  "  Dinna  ye  hear  it?  Dinna 
ye  hear  it?"  Alas  !  like  the  Scotch  missionary  I  was  obliged  to 
say  "  No."       Two  weeks  prior    to  the  meditated  attack,  Capt. 


Brown  summoned  me  to  meet  him  in  an  old  stone  quarry  on  the 
Conecochequi  river,  near  the  town  of  Chambersburgh,  Penn. 
His  arms  and  ammunition  were  stored  in  that  town  and  were  to 
be  moved  on  to  Harper's  Ferry.  In  company  with  Shields  Green 
I  obeyed  the  summons,  and  prompt  to  the  hour  we  met  the  dear 
old  man,  with  Kagi,  his  secretary,  at  the  appointed  place.  Our 
meeting  was  in  some  sense  a  council  of  war.  We  spent  the  Sat- 
urday and  succeeding  Sunday  in  conference  on  the  question, 
whether  the  desperate  step  should  then  be  taken,  or  the  old  plan 
as  already  described  should  be  carried  out.  He  was  for  boldly 
striking  Harper's  Ferry  at  once  and  running  the  risk  of  getting 
into  the  mountains  afterwards.  I  was  for  avoiding  Harper's  Fer- 
ry altogether.  Shields  Green  and  Mr.  Kagi  remained  silent  lis- 
teners throughout.  It  is  needless  to  repeat  here  what  was  said, 
after  what  has  happened.  Suffice  it,  that  after  all  I  could  say,  I 
saw  that  my  old  friend  had  resolved  on  his  course  and  that  it  was 
idle  to  parley.  I  told  him  finally  that  it  was  impossible  for  me  to 
join  him.  I  could  see  Harper's  Ferry  only  as  a  trap  of  steel,  and 
ourselves  in  the  wrong  side  of  it.  He  regretted  my  decision  and 
we  parted. 

Thus  far,  I  have  spoken  exclusively  of  Capt.  Brown.  Let  me 
say  a  word  or  two  of  his  brave  and  devoted  men,  and  first  of 
Shields  Green.  He  was  a  fugitive  slave  from  Charleston,  South 
Carolina,  and  had  attested  his  love  of  liberty  by  escaping  from  slav- 
ery and  making  his  way  through  many  dangers  to  Rochester, 
where  he  had  lived  in  my  family,  and  where  he  met  the  man  with 
whom  he  went  to  the  scaffold.  I  said  to  him,  as  I  was  about  to 
leave,  "  Now  Shields,  you  have  heard  our  discussion.  If  in  view  of 
it,  you  do  not  wish  to  stay,  you  have  but  to  say  so,  and  you  can 
go  back  with  me."  He  answered,  "  I  b'l'eve  I'll  go  wid  de  old 
man  ;  "  and  go  with  him  he  did,  into  the  fight,  and  to  the  gallows, 
and  bore  himself  as  grandly  as  any  of  the  number.  At  the  mo- 
ment when  Capt.  Brown  was  surrounded,  and  all  chance  of  escape 
was  cut  off,  Green  was  in  the  mountains  and  could  have  made 
his  escape  as  Osborne  Anderson  did,  but  when  asked  to  do  so, 
he  made  the  same  answer  he  did  at  Chambersburg,  "  I  b'l'eve  I'll 
go  down  wid  de  ole  man."  When  in  prison  at  Charlestown,  and 
he  was  not  allowed  to  see  his  old  triend,  his  fidelity  to  him  was  in 


no  wise  weakened,  and  no  complaint  against  Brown  could  be  ex- 
torted from  him  by  those  who  talked  with  him. 

If  a  monument  should  be  erected  to  the  memory  of  John 
Brown,  as  there  ought  to  be,  the  form  and  name  of  Shields  Green 
should  have  a  conspicuous  place  upon  it  It  is  a  remarkable 
fact,  that  in  this  small  company  of  men,  but  one  showed  any  sign 
of  weakness  or  regret  for  what  he  did  or  attempted  to  do.  Poor 
Cook  broke  down  and  sought  to  save  his  life  by  representing  that 
he  had  been  deceived,  and  allured  by  false  promises.  But 
Stephens,  Hazlett  and  Green  went  to  their  doom  like  the  heroes 
they  were,  without  a  murmur,  without  a  regret,  believing  alike  in 
their  captain  and  their  cause. 

For  the  disastrous  termination  of  this  invasion,  several  causes 
have  been  assigned.  It  has  been  said  that  Capt.  Brown  found  it 
necessary  to  strike  before  he  was  ready ;  that  men  had  promised 
to  join  him  from  the  North  who  failed  to  arrive  ;  that  the  coward- 
ly negroes  did  not  rally  to  his  support  as  he  expected,  but  the 
true  cause  as  stated  by  himself,  contradicts  all  these  theories,  and 
from  his  statement  there  is  no  appeal.  Among  the  questions  put 
to  him  by  Mr.  Vallandingham  after  his  capture  were  the  follow- 
ing1: "  Did  you  expect  a  general  uprising  of  the  slaves  in  case  of 
your  success?"  To  this  he  answered,  "  No,  sir,  nor  did  I  wish  it. 
I  expected  to  gather  strength  from  time  to  time  and  then  to  set 
them  free."  "  Did  you  expect  to  hold  possession  here  until 
then?"  Answer,  "Well,  probably  I  had  quite  a  different  idea. 
I  do  not  know  as  I  ought  to  reveal  my  plans.  I  am  here  wound- 
ed and  a  prisoner  because  I  foolishly  permitted  myself  to  be  so. 
You  overstate  your  strength  when  you  suppose  I  could  have  been 
taken  if  I  had  not  allowed  it.  I  was  too  tardy  after  commencing 
the  open  attack  in  delaying  my  movements  through  Monday 
night  and  up  to  the  time  of  the  arrival  of  government  troops.  It 
was  all  because  of  my  desire  to  spare  the  feelings  of  my  prisoners 
and  their  families." 

But  the  question  is,  Did  John  Brown  fail?  He  certainly  did 
fail  to  get  out  of  Harper's  Ferry  before  being  beaten  down  by 
United  States  soldiers ;  he  did  fail  to  save  his  own  life,  and  to 
lead  a  liberating  army  into  the  mountains  of  Virginia.  But  he 
did  not  go  to  Harper's  Ferry  to  save  his  life.     The  true  question 


is,  Did  John  Brown  draw  his  sword  against  slavery  and  thereby 
lose  his  life  in  vain?  and  to  this  I  answer  ten  thousand  times,  No  ! 
No  man  fails,  or  can  fail  who  so  grandly  gives  himself  and  all  he 
has  to  a  righteous  cause.  No  man,  who  in  his  hour  of  extremest 
need,  when  on  his  way  to  meet  an  ignominious  death,  could  so 
forget  himself  as  to  stop  and  kiss  a  little  child,  one  of  the  hated 
race  for  whom  he  was  about  to  die,  could  by  any  possibility  fail. 
Did  John  Brown  fail?  Ask  Henry  A.  Wise  in  whose  house  less 
than  two  years  after,  a  school  for  the  emancipated  slaves  was 
taught.  Did  John  Brown  fail?  Ask  James  M.  Mason,  the  au- 
thor of  the  inhuman  fugitive  slave  bill,  who  was  cooped  up  in- 
Fort  Warren,  as  a  traitor  less  than  two  years  from  the  time  that  he 
stood  over  the  prostrate  body  of  John  Brown.  Did  John  Brown 
fail?  Ask  Clement  C.  Vallandingham,  one  other  of  the  inquisi- 
torial party ;  for  he  too  went  down  in  the  tremendous  whirlpool 
created  by  the  powerful  hand  of  this  bold  invader.  If  John 
Brown  did  not  end  the  war  that  ended  slavery,  he  did  at  least 
begin  the  war  that  ended  slavery.  If  we  look  over  the  dates, 
places  and  men,  for  which  this  honor  is  claimed,  we  shall  find 
that  not  Carolina,  but  Virginia — not  Fort  Sumpter,  but  Harper's 
Ferry  and  the  arsenal — not  Col.  Anderson,  but  John  Brown,  began 
the  war  that  ended  American  slavery  and  made  this  a  free  Re- 
public. Until  this  blow  was  struck,  the  prospect  for  freedom  was 
dim,  shadowy  and  uncertain.  The  irrepressible  conflict  was  one 
of  words,  votes  and  compromises.  When  John  Brown  stretched 
forth  his  arm  the  sky  was  cleared.  The  time  for  compromises  was 
gone — the  armed  hosts  of  freedom  stpod  face  to  face  over  the 
chasm  of  a  broken  Union — and  the  clash  of  arms  was  at  hand. 
The  South  staked  all  upon  getting  possession  of  the  Federal  Gov- 
ernment, and  failing  to  do  that,  drew  the  sword  of  rebellion  and 
thus  made  her  own,  and  not  Brown's,  the  lost  cause  of  the  cen-